Today Crikey publishes A Dossier of Lies and Falsehoods — an uncomfortable but, we believe, important news investigation that forensically exposes the Australian prime minister as a systemic, consistent and unremitting public liar.

The dossier catalogues 27 significant lies and falsehoods delivered by Scott Morrison over the two years since his election in 2019, all covering important national issues. The dossier reveals:

  • 16 documented lies about COVID-19 vaccines, sexual harassment, a government inquiry, a former PM, industrial action, energy transition, carbon emissions and climate change, policies towards China and Palestine, government advertising, bushfires, Sam Dastyari, Bill Shorten, refugee health and the Paris climate accord.
  • 11 documented falsehoods about emissions, Australia’s vaccination status, the sports grants scandal, bushfire preparedness, Julia Gillard, the Hillsong church, and electric vehicles.

Every lie and falsehood in the dossier is sourced with links to the facts.

Why are we publishing A Dossier of Lies and Falsehoods?

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Emphatically, it is not for partisan political reasons. We would publish exactly the same dossier about a Labor prime minister if he or she had lied as often, as brazenly, and with so little accountability.

This is public interest journalism, pure and simple. We’re doing this because we care deeply about our democracy and, like all Australians, we don’t want to live in a country where systemic lying by our elected leader has become so normalised that no one seems to notice.

As Dr Simon Longstaff, executive director of The Ethics Centre, writes: “Without truth, no democracy can stand. This is because without truth there can be no informed consent, because without truth there can be no informed citizens.”

This is an investigation, a catalogue of more than two dozen unambiguous lies and falsehoods delivered on important issues, in public, by the Australian who sets the bar for our national ethical standards.

A Dossier of Lies and Falsehoods identifies a litany of statements, interviews, speeches and comments over the past two years from Morrison that are demonstrably untrue. Some were clearly intended to mislead, and these are marked as “lies”. Other statements were untrue, or turned out to be so, and these are marked as “falsehoods”.

“There are a great many of both,” writes Crikey politics editor Bernard Keane, “and most of them have been uttered while Morrison occupied the highest office in the land.”

The PM “lies openly and frequently, about matters large and small — Australia’s carbon emissions, or an inquiry in relation to a sexual assault within the ministerial wing in Parliament House, or simply whether he spoke to someone who refused to shake his hand”, Keane writes.

“Most of his lies are about himself, or his government, and what it has done, or failed to do; often he has lied about things he himself has said or done, as if he wasn’t present when a woman refused to shake his hand and he turned his back on her, or he didn’t carefully explain to Parliament that the secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet had given him no update about his report in relation to Brittany Higgins.”

Why have we made a distinction between “lies” and “falsehoods”? Because we appreciate that sometimes the PM might misspeak or be poorly briefed. We are not inside his head. We don’t always know his motive.

But when he repeats or fails to correct the same untruth, in the face of evidence to the contrary, we can only conclude that someone of his intelligence and high status objectively understands and knows what he is doing is lying.

We certainly recognise the legal, ethical and journalistic challenges (and responsibilities) involved in publishing a large dossier of statements made by the prime minister that are labelled “lies” or “falsehoods”.

As our legal commentator Michael Bradley writes: “If a media outlet does call ‘liar liar’ and gets sued, it may still have a possible defence. There are two viable possibilities under current Australian defamation law: truth, or honest opinion.”

There is also a defence of qualified privilege, that, in essence, we are acting in good faith in bringing these matters to pubic attention. That is certainly so.

Think about it from our perspective. If, as a journalist, you observe something bad that threatens the health of the democracy, and you watch it happening again and again and again, do you look away — or do you investigate and, if validated by research, report it in the public interest?

Especially when it involves the person we all expect to set the right moral and truthful example for Australians?

“To deny access to the truth is to imperil the legitimacy of the democratic system as a whole,” writes Longstaff, “because, in the end, it risks being built on nothing true.”

We are publishing and promoting this dossier with a simple aim: to improve the quality and trustworthiness of public debate. We think this country deserves better. We call on the prime minister to stop the lies.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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